Tuesday, 4 July 2023 - 1:55pm |

Remarkables rescue

3 min read

News article photos, audio and videos (3 items)

ACR team member and one of the climbers
ACR team
ACR team

Attributable to Constable Pepper Ruston, Otago Lakes District Police Search and Rescue.

Shortly after 5pm on Saturday 1 July Police received a report of two climbers in difficulty on the side of The Remarkables.

The two men, in their mid-20s, were trapped on the mountain after ice-climbing in the backcountry near The Remarkables Ski Area. A storm had blown in and the pair became lost while attempting to walk back to the ski field. They’d triggered a small avalanche and had made the sensible decision to take shelter in a rock bivvy and call Police for help.

The climbers had mobile phones with a navigation app that meant that they were able to advise rescue coordinators of their location. They were dressed appropriately for climbing, but were wet and cold. They had a single silver rescue blanket between them and a small quantity of food, and were not well-placed to spend the night on the mountain.

Conditions were deteriorating, with a severe south-west gale wind and poor visibility. Police SAR personnel and members of the Alpine Cliff Rescue (ACR) team mobilised and undertook a rescue operation that spanned more than 12 hours.

With the assistance of Heli Otago two attempts were made to drop the ACR team into the rescue area, initially at 7.30pm and again at 8.30pm.

Both attempts had to be called-off due to the danger posed by the high winds and whiteout conditions. The climbers were not sighted but remained in mobile phone contact with rescue coordinators.

The decision was made for a four person ACR team to go into the area on foot. A Police 4WD transported them to the ski field and NZ Ski personnel provided transport to the top of the field on a groomer. Shortly after midnight the ACR team was enroute from the top of the ski lift towards the climbers' location.

Conditions were treacherous, with blizzard conditions and a temperature of minus 8 degrees Celsius. The avalanche risk in the area was significant but the ACR team included a member who was qualified to assess avalanche risk and was therefore able to minimise the risk.

By 2.20am the team reported that they were within a few hundred metres of the climbers but were having to move very cautiously due to avalanche risk. Shortly after 4.30am the clumbers were located and assisted by the ACR team to walk out to the ski field. All were transported back to the SAR base, arriving at 7am. 

The climbers were assessed and found to be medically fit – albeit cold, tired and embarrassed. They’d researched the weather conditions prior to setting out and they were dressed appropriately for the mountains, but they’d been caught-out by the rapid change in the weather. They hadn’t checked avalanche risk and weren’t carrying avalanche gear or a first aid kit. While they had two mobile phones, they didn’t have a locator beacon or navigation equipment aside from the phone app.

Russ Tilsley, Team Co-Ordinator Queenstown Alpine Cliff Rescue Team says “We recommend doing thorough research before heading into the backcountry. Taking the time to check and plan for the worst could save your life – and prevent others from having to risk theirs to come to your aid.

“The NZ Avalanche Advisory gives a regional Avalanche forecast for present conditions and is recommended to all backcountry and climbing parties to get up-to-date and current conditions in the back country. https://www.avalanche.net.nz/

“If you’re going in via a ski field then check-in the ski patrol, let them know where you’re headed and then let them know when you return. Just because an area is accessible doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be treated with respect – conditions can change rapidly.”


Issued by Police Media Centre

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ACR team member and one of the climbers
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